The 2012 new car models are shipping already, lead by the 2012 Ford Focus scheduled to arrive at dealerships this month.
These are the first new cars that have to comply with new, stricter fuel economy standards passed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2009. The changes are the first major increase in fuel economy standards for cars since the requirements originally took effect in the 1970s. Automakers are expected to adopt a wide range of technologies to meet the new targets, including direct injection, continuously variable transmissions, hybrid systems, and plug-in electric cars.
The new standards require a new-car Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of average 33.3 mpg this year and light trucks to average 25.4, for an overall average of 29.7 mpg. These standards are scheduled to ramp up all the way to 34.1 mpg overall by 2016.
Under the new system, each automaker has an independent fuel economy target to meet, based on the types and sizes of vehicles it plans to produce. But on average, the new standards are supposed to increase overall fuel economy by 16 percent this year and by a third by 2016. (Congress has called for a 40-percent increase overall by 2020.)
These fuel economy improvements are supposed to save 61 billion gallons of fuel and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 654.7 million metric tons, according to NHTSA.
This chart above shows how the requirements ramp up through 2016, not counting some loopholes and credits available to the automakers.